Friday, 6 September 2013

World War One: music, wills and numbers

Last week I did a talk for the Island Bay U3A. They are a great bunch and always have interesting things to say and comments to make.

We talked about anti-war protest songs (several of them had been to the recent Joan Baez concert) and one of them told me about a song called "William McBride" (also called "The green fields of France"), sung by Eric Bogle. I'd already come across Eric Bogle's haunting song "And the band played Waltzing Matilda", but I didn't know "William McBride". You can listen to it here or read the lyrics, and find out more about both Eric Bogle and the original William McBride, here.

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind 
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined? 
And, though you died back in 1916, 
To that loyal heart are you forever 19? 
Or are you a stranger without even a name, 
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane, 
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained, 
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame? 

Someone else asked if I knew about World War One wills. She had once had a job helping to sort them. Apparently all the soldiers who went off to war had to make a will before they went. Many were very young and had few belongings, and nearly all of them left everything "to my mother". Coincidentally, I then came across this article about 230,000 wills made by servicemen from England and Wales who later died in World War One, which have just been released into the public domain. after being stored away for a century. It makes for sad and poignant reading. 

This poignant historical repository of some 230,000 wills, maybe five per cent of which are accompanied by final farewells to mothers, wives and sweethearts, has been made available on the internet by the Courts and Tribunals Service.

And lastly we talked about how the number of New Zealand troops at Gallipoli might have been miscounted and underestimated for over 100 years. The usual figure given is 8556 New Zealand soldiers, but it seems as if the total might have been over 10,000, even as high as 14,000. It's a really interesting example of how research is still unearthing new information about events of World War One. 

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